- Consumers rated Chick-fil-A as the top fast food brand in terms of creating emotional engagement and loyalty, according to a Brand Keys loyalty survey sent to Restaurant Dive. Panera took the lead in fast casual, Domino's topped the pizza category and Dunkin' beat Starbucks in the out-of-home coffee space.
- The report also notes that it's nine to 11 times more expensive to recruit a new customer than retain an existing one, and that a loyalty boost of 7% can increase lifetime profits per diner by 85%. The firm also stated that a loyalty increase of 3% is comparable to a 10% cost reduction program for businesses in certain sectors.
- "Decision-making has become increasingly emotionally driven over the past decade," Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff stated in the survey. "But the addition of increased expectations for brand trust has radically altered the category landscape. Neither 'business as usual' nor 'more social networking' will cut it in this new brandscape. Brands have to move loyalty to the top of their to-do lists."
Chick-fil-A is constantly striving to connect with its customers, whether through its free giveaways when it initially partnered with DoorDash, to its on-demand delivery efforts and "The First 100" tradition when a new store opens. The company's mobile app — which jumped to the top of iTunes most downloaded list when it launched in 2016 — gives it access to the digital domain as well, aiming to meet customers at every possible touchpoint to fulfill demand for quality and speed in fast food.
Still, these initiatives aren't that unique from competitor strategies. McDonald's, which was ranked fourth in loyalty in Brand Keys' survey, uses its recurring "2 for $5" promotion and exclusive offers on its mobile app to entice diners. Wendy's is also winning customer trust after partnering with DoorDash, as reported in an earnings call. Other entities, like Chipotle, have tried points-based loyalty programs, but they have yet to garner the level of fandom Chick-fil-A is experiencing.
So what makes consumers pick one fast food chain over another? According to a recent report from Publisher's Clearing House, 50% of women and 44% of men say that financial rewards like coupons are the primary driver of which fast food restaurant they choose. Nineteen percent of respondents reported that loyalty programs could encourage them to try a new QSR brand.
But Brand Key's Passikoff suggests that achieving valuable loyalty in today's restaurant landscape takes more than brand awareness, entertainment or even satisfaction garnered through initiatives like these.
"Today, loyalty is a fusion of emotional engagement, trust and an ability for a brand to engage; to meet or exceed expectations consumers hold for their ideal product or service. The brands on top of this year's category lists know that," Passikoff said in the release. "More importantly they know how."
Chick-fil-A's dedication to top-of-the-line customer service and food quality may be the secret ingredient that pushes it to the front. For example, even though more than 1,100 of its restaurants offer delivery through DoorDash, the chicken chain only delivers to customers within a 10-mile radius to ensure food stays hot and crispy. While some QSRs may see a cap like this as a barrier to more sales, it seems to be a savvy move for the restaurant so far. During its delivery pilot, 90% of DoorDash orders included Chick-fil-A's waffle fries, and 98% of customers reported that their delivery orders reflected the quality they expect from the restaurant.
The company's embrace of strategic limitations, such as its delivery radius and practice of not operating on Sundays, could hold a loyalty lesson for competitors. By focusing on quality and connections — even at the risk of limiting its reach — a company can still grow and, in Chick-fil-A's case, drive demand. Though the QSR space's primary objective is speed, brands will need to offer more compelling offerings as competition in the space intensifies. If the Georgia-based chain continues with its level of consumer engagement, restaurants titans like McDonald's may end up losing their overall-top slots as giants of the fast food industry.